“We need to take Denver’s concerns seriously” — Colby Pellegrino #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

After four states and Denver’s municipal water agency wrote letters accusing Arizona’s largest water provider of manipulating the Colorado River system to advantage itself, a former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority lashed Arizona as a “bad actor.” An official at the water authority said this week that the utility was taking the concerns seriously.

Pat Mulroy, the water authority’s former general manager, offered a sharp critique of the Arizona utility — the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) — in an interview with The Nevada Independent. She said the utility’s actions had made it a “bad actor” on the river, adding that she believed the claims that CAWCD was manipulating the system to the detriment of other users. She said the fight plays into the internal power struggle within Arizona.

“They are willing to let the entire Colorado River system crash in order to win this parochial battle against the state,” Mulroy said. “It’s illogical… But that’s where they’re headed.”

In a letter Monday, Denver Water said it would end funding for a conservation program in 2019 if CAWCD did not alter its actions. The Southern Nevada agency, which manages water throughout Clark County, also funds the program.

No decision has been made about whether it will pull funding too. A spokesman said that the authority will take a “wait and see” approach to evaluate whether to fund the program next year. Colby Pellegrino, who manages the authority’s Colorado River supply, said the Denver Water letter was significant. Through Lake Mead, Southern Nevada gets about 90 percent of its drinking water from the river.

“We need to take Denver’s concerns seriously,” she said in an interview.

The funding in question is for a pilot program designed to conserve water in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, an attempt to prop up the elevation of the two major interconnected reservoirs in the Colorado River system. The Colorado River is split into two basins, an Upper Basin and a Lower Basin. The Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada pull their water from Lake Mead. Both basins have an interest in keeping their respective reservoirs above critical elevations that trigger losses in hydropower production and shortages in their water deliveries.

The Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are concerned that the CAWCD is manipulating supply and demand, to take more water from their reservoir, Lake Powell, than is appropriate for a system that is over-stressed and runs through an increasingly arid region. Even Arizona state officials have spoken out against CAWCD, which is locked in an internal battle with the Arizona Department of Water Resources, an arm of the governor’s office.

Mulroy applauded the Upper Basin for writing its letter, saying she hoped it would put pressure on Arizona water managers to settle their fighting, one of the factors holding up a drought plan.

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

Denver Water raised concerns in an April 16 letter over perceived “manipulation of water demands” by the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District, which manages the Central Arizona Project. CAP’s system of canals feeds Colorado River Water to Arizona farms and the cities of Phoenix and Tucson.

In the letter, Denver Water CEO/manager Jim Lochhead called into question recent CAP statements about a so-called “sweet spot” in Lake Mead. CAP water managers are publicly discussing keeping measurement levels within a specific range in the lower Colorado River Basin reservoir so more water will come from Lake Powell upstream.

Lochhead said those actions jeopardize millions spent by his agency to conserve Colorado River water upstream. Denver Water gets about half of what it needs from the river, and has invested in recent years in the Colorado River Conservation Program, which pays state farmers and ranchers to conserve Colorado River water as the entire basin struggles to manage the effects of an 18-year drought.

Denver Water is prepared to terminate our funding of the program after we meet our obligations in 2018…unless the [Central Arizona Water Conservancy District] is able to verifiably establish it has ceased all actions to manipulate demands and is fully participating in aggressive conservation measures along with other entities in Arizona,” the letter said.

In an interview, Lochhead said actions by Arizona water managers “undermines both the investment that Denver Water has made in this program and it undermines the conservation efforts that are being made by water users in the upper basin including in Western Colorado.”

For its part, the Arizona district said it will contact Denver Water officials and can’t comment now.

More Unusual Steps

Denver Water’s missive isn’t the first warning received by the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District. Just three days before Denver’s communique, the Upper Colorado River Commission sent its own strongly worded dispatch to Arizona Department of Water Resources chief Tom Buschatzke.

“[The Central Arizona Water Conservation District’s] goal appears to be to delay agreement on drought plans in order to take advantage of what it terms the ‘sweet spot’ by drawing ‘bonus water’ from Lake Powell… characterizations indicate that CAWCD intends to disregard the basin’s dire situation at the expense of Lake Powell and all other basin states,” the commission wrote.

Detailed Colorado River Basin map via the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Upper Colorado River Commissioner James Eklund signed the letter along with representatives from New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah. He said it was “an unusual step to see language like this in a letter from one state to another. That said, we feel like it was timely and the situation warranted the letter.”

For Eklund, the crux of the issue is one water district in Arizona “maximizing one interest over the interest of the entire basin.”

“We assumed good faith dealing and when we saw something that suggested a contrary message or policy being adopted by the district in Arizona,” Eklund continued. “That’s when we decided we have to bring them back into the fold, into the herd, and get them back at the negotiating table.”

At a deeper level, there’s an internal dispute between Arizona water leaders. The Arizona Department of Water Resources has criticized these management practices by the Central Arizona Project.

“It raises important questions about actions taken by Central Arizona Water Conservation District that threaten to blow up the collaborative effort that we have been enjoying on the Colorado River for the last 20 years,” Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke told KJZZ in Phoenix.

From KJZZ.com (Bret Jaspers):

Commissioners for the Upper Colorado River sent a letter late last week to Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke. In the letter, they specifically criticized a water management strategy of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD).

Here’s what the upper basin doesn’t like: the CAWCD aims to keep Lake Mead at a so-called “sweet spot.” If the level of the lake stays in that range, then under current agreements, more water comes down from Lake Powell.

The Commissioners’ letter expressed deep concern that CAWCD “intends to disregard the basin’s dire situation at the expense of Lake Powell and all other basin states.” Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, said bluntly in an interview. “That kind of manipulation is unacceptable to the Upper Basin.”

The letter echoed an argument long made by Buschatzke.

“It raises important questions about actions taken by Central Arizona Water Conservation District that threaten to blow up the collaborative effort that we have been enjoying on the Colorado River for the last 20 years,” he said.

A statement from the CAWCD, in part, said, “We are surprised and disappointed to have received a letter from the Upper Colorado River Commission questioning CAWCD’s intentions in leaving water in Lake Mead. We have been reaching out to our partners in the Upper Basin, hoping to clarify apparent misunderstandings, and to facilitate in-person, collaborative discussions aimed at finding solutions that will benefit the communities and environment served by this mighty river.”

CAWCD also reminded people of the water the agency has conserved on behalf of Lake Mead, “at a significant cost to CAP water users in terms of water and water rates.” CAWCD runs the Central Arizona Project canal system, which delivers water to the Phoenix and Tuscon areas.

The Upper Colorado River Commissioners also urged Arizona to get its internal house in order so all seven states and Mexico can plan for long-term drought.

“The seven Colorado River Basin states and Mexico are connected at the hip in this river,” Ostler said. “And what is going on with regards to one state, its failure to make progress, is having an effect on all seven states.”

Buschatzke and Gov. Doug Ducey are trying to get big-ticket water legislation through the state Capitol this year. But time is running out on the legislative session.

From the Colorado River District (Martha Moore):

“It’s unfortunate that what we view as their internal dysfunction within Arizona has cause frankly damage within the water community on the Colorado River,” Mueller said.

Mueller wants to see Interior review whether the CAP’s water diversions are in compliance with Colorado River water law.

“It deserves looking at and will require some federal action probably,” he said, adding that the Arizona water district’s actions go beyond a “friendly water dispute.” — Andy Mueller

The Central Arizona Aqueduct delivers water from the Colorado River to underground aquifers in southern Arizona. UT researcher Bridget Scanlon recommends more water storage projects like the aqueduct to help protect against variability in the river’s water supply. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Arizona Republic (Brandon Loomis):

Central Arizona water managers, facing backlash from other Colorado River users for allegedly undercutting regional conservation efforts, will visit Utah later this month aiming to smooth relations across a region struggling to agree on a way to save a key water supply…

CAP General Manager Ted Cooke initially shot back that his agency was following the rules and manipulating nothing. But as the week progressed, CAP asked for an audience and planned an April 30 meeting with the Upper Colorado Basin Commission in Salt Lake City.

“We reached out to (commissioners) individually, and they said, ‘How about we hear you all at once?’” CAP spokeswoman Crystal Thompson said.

An official with the commission representing Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico water interests confirmed they are scheduling a private meeting to discuss the conflict…

The Arizona Department of Water Resources and Gov. Doug Ducey have sought but so far failed to secure legislative authority to hold back some of the water the CAP delivers from Lake Mead as part of the state’s offering for a regional conservation agreement. That water would come from Arizona tribes and other users who would willingly store it in the Southwest’s largest reservoir rather than taking their full legal share each year.

CAP, which traditionally has sold excess water to users or groundwater storage projects, objected and argued that keeping too much water in Lake Mead could hurt the state. That’s because federal rules for balancing the levels of Lake Mead and its upstream counterpart, Lake Powell, call for releasing more water from Powell if Mead hovers near a level that would trigger a shortage and mandate cutbacks in use.

Under a formula set by the state and the U.S. Interior Department, Lake Powell will send 9 million acre-feet to Lake Mead this year to prevent shortage, rather than the 8.23 million acre-feet it would send under normal river conditions. Each acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons and is enough to serve about two households for a year.

Conserving enough to prevent a shortage but not so much as to slow the flow from Lake Powell represents a “sweet spot,” CAP argued, in language that has now alarmed upstream water officials.

A CAP graphic circulated among water managers set off the criticism. It depicted Lake Mead’s “sweet spot” as being around elevation 1,080 to 1,085 feet above sea level, or 5 to10 feet above the level that would trigger mandated cutbacks for Arizona water users.

CAP’s “manipulation of demands in order to take advantage of the supposed ‘sweet spot’ in Lake Powell water releases undermines (regional conservation), and is unacceptable,” Denver Water CEO James Lochhead wrote.

He said his agency would cease funding conservation measures by farms and other users if CAP doesn’t embrace “aggressive conservation measures along with other entities in Arizona.”

CAP has participated in Colorado River conservation, and has argued that without its actions in recent years Lake Mead would already be in shortage mode. Critics have argued it’s not enough, and that another dry winter like the last one could end the “bonus” that Lake Powell is sending downstream.

Current projections for this spring’s runoff suggest Lake Powell will drop 30 feet this year and end up just 7 feet above the level that would mandate reductions from normal releases into Lake Mead and start a cycle of shortage.

If that happens, the reduced flows could leave Lake Mead vulnerable to declines that would impose steeper reductions on Arizona consumption.

Buschatzke worried that the letters from upstream interests might signal a lawsuit that could upend years of efforts at working across state lines to protect reservoir levels. The shortage triggers and reservoir operating plans are based largely on a 2007 agreement negotiated among the seven river states.

“For the last 10 years we’ve been on the collaborative path,” he said. “This threatens to send us back down the parochial path.”

He called on CAP to heed the message and negotiate a way to keep more water in Lake Mead. That would require an interim, interagency agreement about some of the authority the state has sought from the Legislature, until the governor can get a bill passed this year or next.

Arizona faces more severe cutbacks if it ignores interstate collaboration and lets the reservoir keep dropping. Those cuts would initially affect central Arizona farmers and groundwater banking efforts in the next two years, but urban users and developers could suffer if the depletion gets worse.

Buschatzke cautioned Arizonans against getting defensive about criticism from upstream states. Doing so and refusing to conserve more could leave the state in a bad spot, he said.

“I hope it doesn’t result in some folks in Arizona saying, ‘Man, they’re ganging up on us, we better hunker down,’” he said.

CAP officials will decline further comment to avoid undermining the planned Salt Lake City talks, Thompson said.

Lake Mead viewed from Arizona.

States accuse @CAPArizona gaming #LakeMead, undermining #ColoradoRiver #drought plans #COriver

View of Lake Mead and Hoover dam. Photo credit BBC.

From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

After expressing their frustration privately for weeks, negotiators for four Colorado River Basin states sent a strongly worded letter to Arizona water managers on Friday, singling out the actions of one state agency as “threaten[ing] the water supply for nearly 40 million people.”

In the letter, the Upper Colorado River Commission said those actions could threaten efforts to conserve water and prevent Lake Mead from going into shortage for as long as possible. It could, they wrote, also undermine a decade of broader collaboration intended to avoid costly litigation between Colorado River users.

In a second letter released on Monday, Denver Water told the Arizona water agency — the Central Arizona Project — that it is prepared to pull conservation funding because CAP’s actions “severely compromise the trust and cooperation that has allowed us to develop [the program].”

The mounting pressure on CAP, which is operated by the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD), comes as the agency is engaged in a fight within Arizona over how to manage the state’s Colorado River water. At issue is whether the Central Arizona Project, which delivers water to Tucson and Phoenix, is gaming a set of guidelines intended to balance the river’s reservoirs during times of drought. The Arizona Department of Water Resources, an arm of the governor’s office, has criticized CAP’s strategy for months and now other Colorado River users are piling on, warning the agency to stop before it jeopardizes delicate negotiations over drought planning.

In response to the letters on Monday, Arizona’s top water official doubled down on his criticism. Tom Buschatzke, who directs the Arizona Department of Water Resources, said he shared some concerns in the letter and agreed CAP was manipulating the system to get more water from the Upper Basin.

“I have huge concerns that the unilateral actions of CAWCD are threatening the regional and binational [drought] plans… that will benefit and protect Lake Mead,” Buschatzke said on Monday in response to the two letters.

In a statement, CAP said it was “surprised and disappointed to have received a letter from the Upper Colorado River Commission questioning CAWCD’s intentions in leaving water in Lake Mead. We have been reaching out to our partners in the Upper Basin, hoping to clarify apparent misunderstandings, and to facilitate in-person, collaborative discussions aimed at finding solutions that will benefit the communities and environment served by this mighty river.”

What’s going on here

The Colorado River is split into an upper and a lower basin with two main reservoirs in each division — Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah are obligated to release a certain amount of Lake Powell water for the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada.

On top of that, the Upper Basin has agreed, in recent years, to send “bonus water” to Lake Mead if it is at a low elevation relative to Lake Powell. The dispute with CAP is about the “bonus water.” Recently, CAP has advocated in presentations for keeping Lake Mead at a “sweet spot” — high enough to avoid a shortage but low enough to get “extra water” from Lake Powell.

This creates a political issue for the Upper Basin. It wants to store water in Lake Powell and boost the reservoir’s elevations. That way it can ensure full deliveries to the Lower Basin in dry years and continue producing hydropower.

CAP is undermining efforts to keep water in Lake Powell, the letters argue, by adjusting how it orders water from Lake Mead (CAP’s general manager Ted Cooke defended this practice on Twitter last week as placing its “water order wisely”).

The letter signed by representatives for all the Upper Basin states calls CAP’s action a “strategy to intentionally maximize demands within the Central Arizona Project to induce larger than normal releases from Lake Powell.” The “goal,” they wrote on Friday, “appears to be to delay agreement on drought plans in order to take advantage of what it terms the ‘sweet spot.’”

Denver Water called it “unacceptable.” The municipal agency said that it would cancel funding for a Colorado River conservation program in the Upper Basin unless CAP “is able to verifiably establish it has ceased all actions to manipulate demands and is fully participating in aggressive conservation.”

In recent months, Cooke has defended CAP’s decisions. CAP’s supporters see the actions as a water agency acting in its own interests. Cooke argued that it would be counterproductive to store more water in Lake Mead because that could boost its elevation so much that the Lower Basin would forgo any “bonus water.” Arizona would take the steepest cuts during a shortage. He has said the best thing to do is to get as much water from Powell as the current rules allow and use it to mitigate a shortage.

From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):

The agency that runs the $4 billion Central Arizona Project is being accused of manipulating Colorado River reservoirs’ operations to suck out more water for its Tucson, Phoenix and Pinal County customers.

The accusation came in two letters in the past few days from representatives of four Upper Colorado River Basin states, the federal government and the Denver Water Dept. They say CAP’s approach threatens a Western water supply serving nearly 40 million people. It also threatens the harmony that has marked relations among the seven basin states since they approved guidelines to run the Colorado River’s reservoirs in 2007, they say.

Under criticism is CAP’s practice of limiting how much river water it conserves each year, in order to prop up Lake Mead’s declining reservoir levels. The CAP has resisted pressure from other water agencies in Arizona to boost its conservation beyond about 200,000 acre-feet a year, enough to cover that many football fields a foot deep.

CAP says that’s because as Lakes Mead and Powell are managed under the 2007 guidelines, conserving too much, or “overconserving” as CAP officials put it in the past, could reduce water releases from Powell to Mead. That would trigger shortages and cutbacks in water deliveries to Arizona users. CAP brings drinking water to Tucson and Phoenix and irrigation water to Pinal County via a 336-mile-long canal.

That stance irks the Upper Colorado commission, representing the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming and the U.S. government.

Last Friday, commissioners wrote that the Central Arizona Water Conservation District — a three-county water district running CAP — “intends to disregard the basin’s dire situation at the expense of Lake Powell and the other basin states.” CAP is trying to “maximize demands” to get larger water releases from Powell, said the letter to Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.

Officials of the CAP water district responded in a statement, “We are surprised and disappointed to have received a letter from the Upper Colorado River Commission questioning CAWCD’s intentions in leaving water in Lake Mead.” On Twitter, CAP general manager Ted Cooke recently said the agency places its water order wisely, following federal guidelines…

Since 2014, CAP and its partners reduced water use enough to be able to leave more than 850,000 acre-feet in Mead, the statement said…

In its letter, the Upper Colorado commission noted that because of a high water release expected from Powell this year and continued low snowpack and poor river runoff, Powell is expected to drop 30 feet in the next year. If these conditions persist, CAP’s efforts to boost water releases from Powell could make future reservoir conditions worse and trigger more severe shortages in the long term, the letter said…

The letters were triggered by a graphic recently posted on CAP’s website, saying the agency has maintained a “sweet spot” for Lake Mead’s water levels.

By that, it means conservation has kept Lake Mead high enough to avoid a shortage, but not so high as to cause the federal government to release only 8.23 million acre-feet of water each year — the customary average annual delivery from Powell to Mead. Instead, the feds have released 9 million acre-feet each of the past four years.

The graphic, which the agency took down after it generated controversy, made Lake Mead’s level appear to be a bigger factor in determining water releases than the weather, which others disagree with.

The Upper Colorado commission and Denver Water are also concerned that this conflict threatens an interstate program in which the feds, Lower Basin water agencies and Denver Water pay farmers and other users to use less water, with the savings held in Mead.

This program has saved about 139,000 acre-feet of river water. But Denver Water is prepared to end its support of the conservation program unless, among other things, CAP can show “it has ceased all actions to manipulate demands and is fully participating in aggressive conservation measures,” Denver Water chief Jim Lochhead wrote to the CAP…

Paul Orme, an attorney for four irrigation districts in Central Arizona, said he continues to support CAP. Farmers will be the first to lose water during a shortage and they’re more interested in year-to-year releases, Orme said.

“What they are doing is permitted under the (2007) guidelines,” Orme said, referring to the CAP. “I know the Upper Basin says they’re not in the spirit of the guidelines, but they’re in the letter of the guidelines.”

From KJZZ.com (Bret Jaspers):

Here’s what the upper basin doesn’t like: the CAWCD aims to keep Lake Mead at a so-called “sweet spot.” If the level of the lake stays in that range, then under current agreements, more water comes down from Lake Powell.

The Commissioners’ letter expressed deep concern that CAWCD “intends to disregard the basin’s dire situation at the expense of Lake Powell and all other basin states.” Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, said bluntly in an interview. “That kind of manipulation is unacceptable to the Upper Basin.”

[…]

CAWCD also reminded people of the water the agency has conserved on behalf of Lake Mead, “at a significant cost to CAP water users in terms of water and water rates.” CAWCD runs the Central Arizona Project canal system, which delivers water to the Phoenix and Tuscon areas…

The Upper Colorado River Commissioners also urged Arizona to get its internal house in order so all seven states and Mexico can plan for long-term drought.

“The seven Colorado River Basin states and Mexico are connected at the hip in this river,” Ostler said. “And what is going on with regards to one state, its failure to make progress, is having an effect on all seven states.”

Buschatzke and Gov. Doug Ducey are trying to get big-ticket water legislation through the state Capitol this year. But time is running out on the legislative session.

Click here to read Denver Water’s letter to the Central Arizona Project:

From InkStain (John Fleck):

Denver Water today joined state leaders in the Upper Colorado River Basin with a letter accusing the managers of the Central Arizona Project of manipulating water orders to get more water out of the Upper Basin’s reservoir at Lake Powell. The actions of the CAP’s managers “several compromise the trust and cooperation” needed to solve Colorado River problems, the letter from Denver Water’s Jim Lochhead said.

@CAPArizona’s method for maximizing their #COriver rights draws letter from the Upper #ColoradoRiver Commission

The Central Arizona Aqueduct delivers water from the Colorado River to underground aquifers in southern Arizona. UT researcher Bridget Scanlon recommends more water storage projects like the aqueduct to help protect against variability in the river’s water supply. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Click here to read the letter.

From Inkstain (John Fleck):

Upper Colorado River Basin state leaders, in a letter Friday (April 13, 2018), said the water management approach being taken by the managers of the Central Arizona Project “threaten the water supply for nearly 40 million people in the United States and Mexico, and threaten the interstate relationships and good will that must be maintained if we are to find and implement collaborative solutions” to the Colorado River’s problems.

The letter accuses CAP of “disregard(ing) the basin’s dire situation”, providing more water for Arizona at the expense of the rest of the basin. In doing so, it highlights a rift within Arizona, where an internal political feud over this and related issues has pitted CAP against the state Department of Water Resources and many of CAP’s own customers. That rift, in turn, has stalled diplomacy over efforts to develop a broad new plan to cut back water use across the Colorado River basin.

The letter, using language that is striking in the normally staid interstate diplomacy of Colorado River interstate water management, takes issue with CAP’s practice of using more water than it might otherwise – avoiding “overconserving”, in CAP’s words – in order to ensure continue big releases from Lake Powell upstream. That has the effect of expanding water use in the Lower Colorado River Basin at the expense of draining Lake Powell, the critical reservoir for protecting Upper Colorado River Basin supplies. The managers of the Central Arizona Project are “disregard(ing) the (Colorado River) basin’s dire situation at the expense of Lake Powell and all the other basin states” by using more water than they need to, the letter said.

@WaterLawReview: A Dam Fine Mess (Part I) — Advocates of Decommissioning Glen Canyon Need to Reckon with the All-Mighty Law of the River

Glen Canyon Dam

Click here to read the post from the University of Denver Water Law Review (Kristina Ellis). Here’s an excerpt:

Over the past few years, voices calling for the removal of one of the West’s biggest reservoirs have gotten louder. And while proponents—including scientists, activists, journalists, and government officials—have cited everything from ecology to economics in their quest to decommission Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona and restore that part of the Colorado River, very little has been said about the impacts such an action would have on the house-of-cards-like network of compacts, agreements, and obligations comprising the “The Law of the River.

While many of the arguments made by proponents are worth discussion in this era of changing climates and changing values, if they want to make any progress turning this dream into a reality, they will first have to solve the Gordian knot of legal issues revolving around the Colorado Compact…

There are fifteen dams on the main stem of the Colorado River, with hundreds more on its many tributaries. Two of these dams, the Hoover Dam and the Glen Canyon Dam, hold back the nation’s two largest two reservoirs. The Glen Canyon Dam (the “Dam”) was authorized in 1956 under the Colorado Storage Act for storage and hydroelectric power, turning the once wild and flowing Colorado River into the placid Lake Powell. As part of the aforementioned agreements, the Upper Basin has an obligation to deliver a certain amount of water from its basin to the Lower Basin. Instead of relying on the natural flow of the river, this reservoir serves as a water savings account for the Upper Basin so they can store up water in wet years to make sure they meet their delivery obligations to the Lower Basin…

Articles upon articles illustrate the environmental need for letting go of the Dam, lamenting at the natural wonders lost by the plugging up of the Colorado River. One of the biggest voices calling for the dismantling of the Dam is the former Bureau of Reclamation head Daniel Beard. Beard calls the dam a “deadbeat dam,” the title of his book calling for the dismantling of dams across America. Beard writes that instead of viewing the current drought conditions and the decreased levels of both Lake Mead and Lake Powell as a doom-and-gloom situation, that the Bureau of Reclamation and the politicians for each state should look at the situation as a chance for innovative thinking. As part of this strategy, Beard calls for the removal of Glen Canyon Dam and the draining of Lake Powell: let the Colorado River fill up Lake Mead instead bypassing the no longer useful Lake Powell.

While all of these issues are worth discussing in regard to the Glen Canyon Dam coming down or being decommissioned, one thing all of these articles and books seem to overlook is the very real legal obstacles to such a major action. This includes the effect the lack of a reservoir would have on the 1922 Colorado River Compact. Additionally, removing or decommissioning the dam would likely require an impossible amount of political will in Congress. Currently the Glen Canyon Dam produces 4.5 billion kilowatt-hours annually, supplying electricity to nearly six million customers throughout the West, and brings millions of tourists who pump nearly four hundred million dollars into the region each year. But if Congress did decide to one day decommission or tear down the Glen Canyon Dam, the legal ramifications of such a decision would need to be discussed before action could be taken. This article will discuss these ramifications through the perspective of amending the Colorado River Compact of 1922…

If decommissioning or dismantling the Glen Canyon Dam occurs and the waters of the Colorado River are allowed to flow freely downstream, questions about the use and ownership of the water will surface. For example, questions may arise regarding how much water is being allowed to freely flow from one basin to the next and if that amount constitutes an over delivery by the Upper Basin to the Lower Basin based on the Compact numbers. Without a barrier or a way to pump water upstream if too much is delivered downstream, the Upper Basin, without Glen Canyon Dam, opens itself up to many legal risks. Both basins would then need to work out an agreement or a system to replenish the Upper Basin with water. Potential solutions could include a pumping system to deliver water back upstream, a series of new dams, the sharing of the Lake Mead reservoir, and/or a new distribution point between the two basins. Since creating a pumping system could become troublesome and cost millions of dollars, coupled with the call to remove dams from streams and rivers, one likely solution is to share the lower reservoir, which would then change the distribution point as listed in the Compact. In order to accomplish this, stakeholders using the Colorado River would need to amend The Law of the River in some manner. This could include amending the Colorado River Compact of 1922, which has not been amended in nearly one hundred years.

US Senate bill introduced to reauthorize #ColoradoRiver System Conservation Program program #COriver

Detailed Colorado River Basin map via the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Gary Martin):

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., filed the bill to reauthorize for four years the conservation program, first passed by Congress in 2015 to conserve water and mitigate impacts of drought in the Colorado River Basin…

Southern Nevada, which includes Clark County and Las Vegas, receives nearly 90 percent of its water supply from the Colorado River.

“Southern Nevada is no stranger to drought, and that’s why I continue to fight for policies that strengthen our state’s water supply and infrastructure,” Heller said in a statement.

Heller filed the bill on Tuesday.

A report by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in January projected that the level of Lake Mead, where Las Vegas draws its water, would be about 5 feet lower by the end of the year.

The surface of Lake Mead has fallen 131 feet since 2000.

Steamboat “State of the River” meeting recap

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

“The key with Lake Powell is that it is our river savings account,” Andy Mueller told a gathering of more than 200 people who packed into the Steamboat Springs Community Center Tuesday night for the Steamboat State of the River meeting, less than 50 feet from the banks of the Yampa River…

Less understood, Mueller said, is the Colorado River District’s stake in power generation at Glen Canyon Dam, where water levels are coming perilously close to dropping below the intakes for the power plant.

“It really starts with power generation at Lake Powell,” Mueller said. “That dam is a cash register for those of us on the river. It pays for the Colorado Endangered Fish Program, which allows all of us in Colorado to continue to divert water while the endangered fish are being protected.”

[…]

Mueller told his Steamboat audience that agricultural water rights continue to be of preeminent importance in the district.

“On the Western Slope, try to picture what it would look like without ag. It is a very different world if we don’t have irrigated agricultural land,” he said. “That’s where the water is. Eighty percent of the water consumed on the Western Slope is in ag. We have to protect this agriculture, and a lot of that has to do with agricultural water rights.”

[…]

The district represents about 28 percent of the physical land mass in Colorado but is home to just 500,000 of the 5 million people in the state. And 57 percent of the water produced statewide comes from the Colorado River District…

Lake Powell, backed up by Glen Canyon Dam, just above the Grand Canyon, is where the Rocky Mountain states, including Utah, Wyoming and the northern portions of Arizona and New Mexico store water to ensure they can meet their obligations to send water to the lower basins states including California, Nevada and southern New Mexico and Arizona.

As of 1999 the reservoir was almost full. But subsequent drought years, notably 2002, drew the reservoir down. It took until 2012 to slowly re-build storage in the vast reservoir, but snowpacks in the Colorado Basin have not been generous since.

As winters have grown milder, river flows are sapped and extended growing seasons are also resulting in plants absorbing more of the available water.

“We’re working on cloud seeding, but you have to have storm events in order to hit them with the silver iodide,” Mueller said.

#Snowpack/#Drought news: #LakeMead shortage declaration unlikely in 2018 — @USBR #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 19, 2018 via the NRCS.

From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

Despite worsening conditions in the mountains that feed the Colorado, forecasters still expect the reservoir east of Las Vegas to contain just enough water by the end of the year to avoid a first-ever federal shortage declaration.

A month ago, the Colorado River Basin was on track for its seventh-driest winter in more than half a century. Now forecasters say this winter will likely go down as the sixth-driest on record for the river system that supplies 90 percent of the Las Vegas Valley’s drinking water.

“This entire water year has been characterized by way below-average precipitation,” said Paul Miller, service coordination hydrologist with the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City. “It’s bad everywhere.”

[…]

It’s especially bad in Arizona, where snow levels across much of the state are roughly one-third their normal levels, Miller said.
In the entire basin, only the Upper Green River area in Wyoming has seen more snow than usual this winter.

Officials in Nevada, California and Arizona have spent the past several years negotiating a drought contingency plan, under which the states would voluntarily reduce their use of Colorado River water to prop up Lake Mead.

Right now that plan is stalled by internal squabbles among water users in Arizona and California over how to share those voluntary cuts.

Click here to read the March 15, 2018 Colorado River Basin Forecast Center’s Water Supply Forecast Discussion.